Repentance (Foundations #5) – How God brings change to his world

Read: Colossians 3:1-17

Turn around

Up to this point we have been observing somewhat objective realities: things that are true irrespective of our response or acceptance, namely:

1. God has created the universe

2. Humanity rebelled against his loving rule

3. God promised redemption

4. God brought redemption through the death and rising of Jesus Christ.

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Today, things change. Today the theoretical rubber meets the road of our daily lives, because we are talking about repentance.

First, some fine print:

God is the Lord and Master of our lives irrespective of our response. You might be sitting here totally unmoved by Jesus. You might be quite indifferent to God and his plans for the world. You may regard yourself as an unbeliever, an infidel, an atheist. Sorry to burst the bubble, but none of that changes the reality that God is still King, and that you are still accountable to him.

God is still Lord and he will bring his purposes to fulfilment despite your unbelief or indifference. He is a sovereign God, and is not waiting on you or me before he can do anything.

Second, you may be wondering why have I chosen to talk about repentance, and not faith.

Answer:

a) We tend to see ‘having faith’ as a cognitive function, an intellectual thing. Which of course, it is. We accept facts about Jesus, we agree to church teachings, we believe the Gospel. All well and good, except that

b) Faith cannot be separated from a total life response. It is not possible to have faith in Jesus without that commitment coming to expression in your life and behaviour. Faith must go hand in hand with a repentant life. So, throughout this sermon, when I use the word ‘repent’ you need to understand that as an all-of-life response flowing from faith, not as something separated from it.

Repentance, in biblical terms, always flows out of faith. Faith, in biblical terms, always leads to a repentant life.

Faith in Christ must be expressed in works. Without action, faith is dead. By the same token, repentance cannot be equated with mere activity. Such activity, without faith, is either mere activism or dead religion. Repentance, in biblical terms, always flows out of faith. Faith, in biblical terms, always leads to a repentant life.

Repentance: How God’s plan impacts his world

We’ve noted that God is sovereign. He is not dependent on human response. In his great wisdom, however, this sovereign God generally does his work through people. Which is why I want to stress the role of repentance in God’s Big Picture.

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You may not realise it: but you hunger for repentance more than you know. You’re hungering for a changed world. You’re longing for peace. Praying for reconciliation. You desire growth, and faith, and strength. We long for repentance because God’s change comes to his world as he brings change in people.

There was once a man called Saul. He hated Jesus. He was persecuting Christians as much as ISIS extremists in Mosul today. But a few years later he had become the most eloquent and powerful proponent of Christianity in the Roman world.

How did that happen?

God brought him to his knees, and opened his eyes to Jesus. Saul believed and repented. He came under Jesus’ rule. His life changed. He started sharing the good news of life and grace in Jesus’ name. Saul repented.

What is repentance?

Repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently – James I Packer, Concise Theology

Here’s the critical thing: the sovereign God brought his change to the NT world through Paul and other followers of Jesus as they led repentant lives. As God worked his change in and through repentant people, families, communities, cities, empires were transformed.

So, How does God change the world?

Through one repentant person at a time.

Coming Under Jesus’ Rule

The thing about repentance is that we don’t understand it very well. We’re not helped by the crazy street preachers who connect repentance with the end of the world. We’re not helped by the evangelistic emphasis which too readily equates repentance with mere initial commitment to Jesus: “Did you hear about Bob? He repented the other night and became a Christian!”

When we look at the whole sweep of Bible teaching on repentance, we see a couple of things:

One: Repentance is certainly connected with a person’s initial commitment, with a decision to trust Jesus in faith. Like the people listening to Peter on the day of Pentecost.

Peter responded:

“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

Three thousand people repented and were added to the church on that day. So repentance is certainly connected with that initial faith.

Two: repentance is also more than an initial act. You may have noticed that in Packer’s definition:

“…one’s whole life is lived differently”

It’s like a change of citizenship: there’s an initial decision and action, but the changed citizenship continues after the initial transition has been made. Over time the person adapts, changes, and takes on a new way of life. They stop speaking the old language, and start speaking the language of the new country. They stop eating food of the old country, and start eating the food of the new environment. They stop wearing the clothes appropriate to their old address, and start wearing clothes appropriate to the new setting.

How does God change the world? One repentant person at a time.

In Eph 4 Paul describes this new way of life as a continued putting off the clothes of rebellion, and wearing instead the wardrobe of new life:

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;” (Ephesians 4:22–23, NIV)

In Colossians the image becomes more intense. Some behaviour doesn’t just need to be put off, it needs to be killed off:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5, NIV)

In Paul’s letter to Titus, ‘repentance’ is a life focussed on bringing God’s good life to expression:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:3–8, NIV)

Finally, the reformation’s Heidelberg Catechism clearly shows repentance as a life long process:

88 Q. What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion?

A. Two things: the dying-away of the old self, and the rising-to-life of the new.

89 Q. What is the dying-away of the old self?

A. To be genuinely sorry for sin and more and more to hate and run away from it.

90 Q. A. What is the rising-to-life of the new self?

A. Wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a love and delight to live according to the will of God
 by doing every kind of good work.

It is a consistent life change. It is an insistent life change.

It is you, coming under Jesus’ rule, staying under Jesus’ rule, and living under Jesus’ rule.

This is why we tend to resist repentance. We’re happy for there to be changes everywhere else, in other people’s lives, but we resist change in our own. We dislike any reminder that our lives need to change. True?

Interestingly, the predominant OT word for repent is שׁוּב – ‘turn back’. Quite appropriate, isn’t it? As a follower of Jesus, as a repentant Christian, I am called to turn back from doing things my own way. To turn back from arrogantly making up my own mind. To turn back from seeing myself as the judge of what is right and reasonable. I am called instead to come under Jesus’ rule totally and completely.

This is why repentance is so dominant in the big picture of what God is doing: As people believe and repent, God is starting to restore what human rebellion threw away.

As I repent, I am coming back under the rule of the loving King who created my world, who brought me to life, who promised my redemption, and who made it happen in Jesus. By living in repentance, I bow my knee to this Jesus. I submit myself to his Lordship. I offer up my life to his Kingdom. I turn back, and walk with him.

Here’s the thing: when Jesus calls you to repentance, he calls you to a total change of heart, mind and behaviour.

So many people today are waiting for God to do big stuff in their life. They have heard people say ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’… So they wait for something wonderful, or miraculous, or overwhelming.

It may happen.

Want to know God’s plan for your life?

It is for you to come under Jesus’ rule, to love the one who gave his life for you, for you to start living for him. Truth is: most of the time the biggest thing that God changes in your life is your attitude and your behaviour.

You, taking off the garments of unbelief. You, putting on the clothes of faith, of change, of new creation. You, embracing a totally different life direction.

Let me ask: do you see yourself as a Christian?

Can you say that your life is heading in a new life direction? The direction of Jesus’ Kingdom? A different life direction compared with before you were a Christian? Is your behaviour actually different?

Consider for a moment: Could it be that one of the biggest barriers to God making a difference in your world is your unwillingness to change your attitudes and your behaviour?

Could it be that one of the biggest barriers to God making a difference in our local community could be the unwillingness of Christians like us and churches like ours to change our attitudes and behaviour?

By the same token, could it be that God working through you – you living a repentant life – that this could become a powerful statement of his transformational power in the world today?

Why should I?

God is calling you to come under the rule of Jesus and live this repentant life.

And you might say, ‘well, why should I?’

The answer is in the Cross of Jesus. That’s what he did for you. That’s how much he loved you. He forgives all your sins. He heals all your diseases. He lifts you from the pit of your own rebellion and crowns you with love and compassion. All this by his sheer grace. And today he commands you to believe and repent and by his transformational sovereign power, start living a completely different life in Christ.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)

God calls you into this life, into this repentant life, because he wants you to have life in its fullness. He wants a better you. The you where the new heavens and the new earth are starting to come to expression. The you of new creation! (see 2 Corinthians 5:17)

Don’t you think your family would agree? They would love you to be a better you! Don’t you think your workmates, your friends, your children, want you to be a better you? They’d love you to put off the destructive stuff of human rebellion, and to put on the new life of Jesus!

You’re not alone in this

The really great news is that you’re not alone in this. It’s not as if God says ‘well, my Son has come to rescue you from your rebellion, now believe, repent, and get your life together, then come and see me when you’re done.”

Happily, the Bible presents another reality: Jesus sends his Spirit, who lives in us, empowering us to make the changes God call us into.

It’s the Spirit who motivates and enables us to take off the old ways, and put on the new.

It’s the spirit to enables us to put to death the destructive rebellion that had us bound.

It’s the Spirit who points us to Jesus, seated at the right hand of the father, and who focuses our mind on the things above, on heaven things, and enables us live that new reality instead the old.

Once again, the Heidelberg Catechism:

A. 49 By the Spirit’s power we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.

See God never calls you to do something which he will not enable you to do. He calls you to live this new life of repentance. He gives you his Son, who through his death and rising again breaks the reign of sin in your life. He gives his Spirit to live in you, to lead, guide, direct and change, so Christ’s new life might indeed come to full expression in yours, so you might be

“…made new in the attitude of your minds; and … put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23–24, NIV)

Are you wanting God and his transformation to be seen in this world?

Oh yes, Lord, please!

Then you need to become a repentant follower of Jesus. You need to turn back to God. Become part of Jesus Kingdom.
Become part of the people who claim his life, death and resurrection as the centre and foundation of their own.

In Christ’s power, live this new repentant life. Change your attitudes. Change your behaviour.
And may Jesus receive all the glory.

This sermon was originally preached on August 3, 2014 by Dave Groenenboom at Gateway Community Church, Cockburn Central, Western Australia

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